British Fantasy Awards Update

This morning I was pointed to this post by David Howe on the BFS Forums. In it he confirms that he did indeed act as the administrator for the awards. However, the votes were automatically counted by software (which I guess explains the online-only ruling), and were independently checked by the BFS webmaster, Del Lakin-Smith. Neither Del nor his wife, Kim, was up for an award this year.

So as far as that is concerned there’s absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing, but a fairly clear error of judgement by Howe in accepting an award when he was the award administrator. I note from comments in my previous post that the British Science Fiction Association has a similar rule to the Hugos about award administrators not being eligible for the awards. Obviously there are issues with available volunteers, but it is a fairly simple rule that will make it much harder for Steve Jones and others to sling mud.

Howe also gives some voting figures. A total of 140 people cast ballots. The largest number of voters who participated in any category was 120, and the lowest 77. For comparison this year’s Hugos had 2,100 voters. The most popular category had 1813 ballots cast, and the least popular 814. Also, as I noted yesterday, the Hugos use a preferential ballot that makes it harder for a small, dedicated clique to dominate the voting, whereas the BFS does not. I understand the attraction of first-past-the-post voting, but hopefully you can see why a ballot with low participation numbers might choose a preferential system.

Finally, on the question of participation, I have now had two people say to me that, as members of FantasyCon but not members for the BFS, it was not at all clear that they were entitled to vote. This is potentially a rather more serious issue as the results of the ballot could have changed if more FantasyCon members had voted. I understand that the convention had around 500 members, and not all of the 140 who did vote were members (myself, for example).

It is not obvious who is responsible for this, and indeed responsibility may lie with many people. To start with I only have two bits of anecdata, and those people may have missed the messages they were getting, or they may have signed up too late to vote (I believe that votes are counted before the convention as with the Hugos — there is no voting at the convention as with the BSFA Awards). Also it isn’t clear how responsibility for contacting voters is shared between FantasyCon and the BFS committee. It would seem likely that FantasyCon should have contacted its members, and had something on the website about the awards, but it is possible that the arrangement was that they should share membership details with the BFS. I think the latter is less likely as it would probably be a breach of UK data protection laws, but I don’t want to point fingers without a proper understanding of who should have done what.

This all comes back to what I said yesterday about making it easy for people to vote. If you don’t want the results of your awards dominated by a small clique then you need more people voting, and the starting point for that has to be to make sure that everyone who is entitled to vote knows about the ballot and can participate easily.

Further Updates

I see from The Guardian that Sam Stone has returned her Best Novel award.

Also Damien Walter has called for a “unified spec-fic award”, allegedly becuase the BFS and BSFA Awards are, “dominated by amateur writers and publishers voting for their own work.”

Further update

We now have a comment on the previous post from someone who was a FantasyCon member, but not a BFS member, saying that he got an email from FantasyCon reminding him to vote. As I understand it, voting takes place in June and July. It is quite possible that some of the people who say they didn’t know they could vote joined the convention after that time.

23 thoughts on “British Fantasy Awards Update

  1. I will confess I don’t know much about what’s gone on, only what I read on that editor’s blog post, your own blog and what little I’ve seen on SFFWorld.

    I do think, though, that this awards ceremony has been a complete farce from my perspective. A non-genre piece won the TV award, for example, and people heavily involved with the awards walked away with a number of them.

    As I’ve mentioned on Twitter to Sam Sykes and on SFFWorld, I think the awards are clearly not set up right. There seems to be no control over what’s gone on. There’s a non-genre piece winning an award, one publisher that I would guess is little known almost swept the board, people involved walked away with a number of those awards and an artist I think won for the fifth year in a row.

    I’m not saying it’s corrupt or rigged, but from where I’m sat, it’s more a case of it’s a bit of a mess and needs tidying up. The number of votes shouldn’t matter that much, it’s the way it’s handled that makes a difference.

    1. Numbers is a complicated issue. If you have and independent and respected jury then five people is plenty. But if they award uses a popular vote mechanism then numbers can make a big difference. Whether we like it or not, people will vote for their friends. The smaller and more connected the group of people voting, the more likely it is that they’ll end up giving the awards to their mates rather than looking at the field as a whole. Also the smaller the number of voters, the easier it is to arrange for ballot stuffing.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I understand all that, I just think that it’s not being run in the best way it could be.

      2. I have an instinctive distrust of juried shortlists. In my view, an award should be fully juried (such as the Clarke) or fully democratic (such as the Hugos — or indeed the Novas, which I currently administer). Combining the two brings us the problems of both and the merits of neither.

    2. an artist I think won for the fifth year in a row

      Provided he or she is the best candidate, I see no reason to penalise a consecutive winner.

      1. Well, clearly, being the best artist 5 years in a row is a little suspect especially when you do art for the barely known publisher who swept the awards and who is owned by the people involved with running it by the end.

        See where I’m going with this?

        1. I’m guessing the artist is better known than the imprint. Possibly via appearances in BFS publications or in the Fantasycon artshow?

          1. He’s done work for most of the big genre publishers, but it still casts doubt – in my opinion – on his winning the artist prize.

            It’s looking to me to be the Telos Ego Inflation Awards rather than anything else.

          2. Les Edwards won Best Artist four years in a row, 2003-2006, for the first three of which I was BFS Awards Administrator, and has won seven times all told. It seems to be a category which often produces people who win year after year, especially as the award is for the artist rather than a specific artwork.

  2. Also that everyone gets timely reminders about nonimating/voting – Juliet said she was getting newletters about nominating and voting AFTER the deadlines had passed…

  3. If you don’t want the results of your awards dominated by a small clique then you need more people voting

    That’s the reason the Nova Awards are being opened up this year to all UK and Irish fans who’ve read at least six fanzines, and why we’re launching an electronic ballot form. (There’s been a slight technical problem with the latter, but it should be up and running before the weekend.)

    1. Thanks Mike. Sorry your comment took a while to be approved. It was in the spam trap. A huge amount of the comment spam I get has short complimentary messages like that. It’s very tempting to edit out the links to the porn and drug sites and allow them through, but I don’t.

  4. It is my understanding that attendees of the previous FantasyCon event may vote for the awards, as they cover that specific calendar year. Thus, people who attended FantasyCon this year may vote about 6 months from now for titles, authors, and houses based on this year’s output. This isn’t too widely hailed when one attends and purchases an attending membership for the event, however, no.

    Additionally, the initial ballot presented (aka: the “long-list”, or “recommendations”) used a Preferential Voting Method, if I recall correctly. It’s likely the first time it’s been used, but hopefully that’ll be continued. The results of that vote then created the “Short List”, which, yes indeed, used the “First Past the Post” method of arriving at a ‘winner’. Although “write-in candidates” were allowed at the time of voting on the “long list”, it’s nearly impossible for that to result in a massive number of people saying “why didn’t someone mention ____’s book?” for that to arrive on the “short list”.

    And, in case anyone wonders about such things, the “Long List” is created by amassing all of the letters and eMail sent by qualifying people saying “I really liked _____’s short story and think they should get an award”, as long as said short story was published in the particular year of consideration.

    Just some information, you see. I haven’t a real opinion on the results of this — or any — year’s awards.

    1. Using preferential balloting to create the short lists but not for the winners is the wrong way around. If that is what they did (I can’t remember that far back) then someone clearly doesn’t understand when and why you should use which method.

    2. No, the members of both the last FantasyCon and the next FantasyCon are eligible to vote, although obviously if someone buys a ticket to the con in August it’s all over by that point.

      And preferential voting isn’t used at any stage of the awards, and hasn’t ever been, so far as I know.

      On the longlist members vote for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favourites in each category, who then get 3, 2 and 1 point each.

      Up until the 2008 awards, that would have decided the winners, and I think that had been the system for a decade or two (I could be wrong).

      From the 2009 awards on there was voting on the shortlist, and that has definitely improved things a bit. Even though I’m disappointed by some of this year’s results, I know they must have been chosen by a decent number of members.

      1. Erm, Stephen, have another mug of tea and work through this slowly:

        And preferential voting isn’t used at any stage of the awards, and hasn’t ever been, so far as I know.

        On the longlist members vote for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favourites in each category, who then get 3, 2 and 1 point each.

        Isn’t that preferential voting in the second sentence? In which case, what’s the first sentence mean?

        1. As I understand it – which may be imperfectly – when you talk about a preferential voting system (like the Hugos) you mean one in which second and third choices only come into it if the first choices aren’t decisive.

          The BFS longlist just uses a points system – something could get onto the shortlist without being anyone’s first choice.

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